by Graeme Matthews

March 4, 2019

A-level students nationwide are beginning to wrap up their coursework and leave school for study leave in order to revise for their upcoming exams. Some students are prepared – they have a comprehensive revision plan, several years of mock exams to complete,  a thorough set of notes and a firm understanding of the course content. Other students may not be so well prepared – they have something that resembles a revision plan, a few mock exams that they have downloaded from the internet, a binder full of handouts, scribbled notes and marked exams and a weak understanding of the course material.

When the results are published over the summertime, the results at an initial glance seem to follow a predictable trend. Those students that were well prepared earned or exceeded their predicted grade. And those students that weren’t well prepared earned less than their predicted grade and have placed their entry into the university of their choice in jeopardy. And yet there are those few students that either seemed on track to earn their predicted grade on the exam and didn’t and those students that were predicted to earn a low grade on the exam that performed exceedingly well on the exam and exceeded everyone’s expectations.

As a parent, are you concerned about how your son or daughter will do on their A-level chemistry exams? Are you concerned that they may not be studying effectively for their exams? And are you curious about how some students earn top grades on their exam even though they seem to be woefully underprepared?

This two-part blog post will discuss the revision plan used by A* students when studying for their A-level exams in order for them to achieve an A* on their exams. It will also discuss the reasons why some students although woefully underprepared manage to earn a grade higher than their predicted grades on their A-level exams.

Revision Plan: Start With The End In Mind


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Stephen Covey has an excellent quote “Begin with the end in mind”, that is one of the habits that he discusses in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.” Before revising for their exams A* students know what grade they want on their final exam. They create a study plan that maps out the topics that they will be revising during the weeks leading up to the exam.

However, they don’t just start with the first topic in the course specification and then move onto the second topic and work their way through each topic in the syllabus in sequential order. Rather they see the synoptic links between the topics taught in the first year and the topics taught in the second year of the course. For example, they study the topic of energetics with thermodynamics and the topics of kinetics with rate equations. This is because energetics and kinetics are taught in the first year of the course and thermodynamics and rate equations are taught in the second year of the course.

Excellent revision plans all start with the end in mind – the grade that the student wants to earn on the final exam. And a well laid out plan so that they know what topics they are studying each week. However, A* students also know the value of the content and the context of the course material.

Build A Firm Foundation With Content

Revision plan

A* students have a system of strategies in place in order to build a firm foundation in the content of the course. A* students have a preferred note taking system that they use in all of their A-level courses. Some students use the Cornell note taking method, others use the mind mapping method or a combination of both of these methods. It doesn’t matter what note taking method they use as long as the system that they use produces a set of notes that they can refer to while they study for the exam. They also have organised sets of folders that contains all of their classwork, homework sets and past papers.

A* students know that they need to study using active learning rather than passive learning techniques. Rather than copy over their notes and make a fresh set of notes on the topic, A* students spend a short time making  a colour coded mind map of the topic that summarises the main points of the topic. They know that their time is better spent completing past paper questions and updating their mind map after they complete each set of past paper questions rather than spending their time copying over their notes.

If your son or daughter doesn’t have a good set of notes or has disorganised folders there is still hope that they can earn a respectable grade on the final exam for the course. They are better off creating a colour coded mind map of the subtopics covered in the topic using the specification as a guide rather than creating a master set of notes in the weeks leading up to their final exams. Although it may seem counter intuitive, using active learning strategies such as completing past paper questions and updating their mind maps along the way as they revise for a topic is a better strategy than the passive learning strategy of creating a fresh master set of notes for each topic.

Read the blog post “A-Level Chemistry Revision: 5 Study Skills Used By A* Students”, for study skills your child can incorporate into their revision plan.

Putting A Plan Together Using The Context Of The Course

Revision plan

As mentioned earlier, A* students tend to have the ability to see the synoptic links between the topics covered in the first and second year of the course. However, they also revise for each topic by question type rather than just completing packs of past paper questions. This strategy allows them to model how to answer each question correctly and then reinforce the correct way of answering the question by answering several questions in a revision session.

For example, A* students may decide to revise 6-mark questions as part of their revision plan. Rather than complete all of the 6-mark questions in a session they spend some time reviewing how to answer the 6-mark question in terms of indicative chemistry content and the three levels of explanation. They then complete a 6-mark question, mark it using the mark scheme, update their mind map for the topic and reflect on how they can improve their score on the next 6-mark question.

Once they have completed their revision for the 6-mark question they use a similar strategy when revising for a 5-mark mechanism question, a 4-mark calculation question, a 3-mark concept question, a 2-mark definition question or a 1-mark multiple choice question. When creating their revision plan for the topic, A* students schedule their time by types of question that they will revise rather than revising the content of the topic. They know that this type of active learning will help earn them a good grade on their final exams because when they see the question on the exam they will recall the model answer for the question type, the steps required to to answer the question and earn the most points possible as well as the content required to answer the question.

5 Strategies For Creating An Effective Revision Plan To Earn An A* in A-Level Chemistry


When creating an effective revision plan, A* students use the following strategies listed below. They are more focused on deciding what they are going to do each week rather than focusing on using each minute of each hour of the day.

  1. Start with the end in mind – what grade do you want to earn on the final exam in the course?
  2. Pair up topics that fit together – for example kinetics and rate equations.
  3. Consolidate content – spend a small amount of time creating a colour coded mind map for each topic using the specification as a guide.
  4. Study by question type for each topic – for example 6-mark questions and then update the mind map for the topic.
  5. Complete whole past paper questions under timed conditions.

About the author 

Graeme Matthews

Graeme Matthews has a B.Sc and an M.Sc in Chemistry and a PhD in Adult Education. He has been teaching a combination of university level, college and A-level chemistry for over 23 years. He has taught over 10,000 chemistry students in his teaching career. He has a proven track record of helping students earn an A* on their A-level chemistry exams so they can attend the university of their choice.

  • Great post, my daughter is currently studying for her gcse’s I can clearly see where she followed these tips she achieved an a- a* where she was less organised she hit c’s. I find that she struggles more when she isn’t so interested in the subject. Some tips on how to make the boring subjects more interesting would be great.

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